China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) seeks to expand maritime routes and land infrastructure networks connecting China with Asia, Africa and Europe, boosting trade and economic growth. 

This transformative program defines as its five major priorities: policy coordination, facilitating connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and establishing new bonds between people. 

Its name was coined in 2013 by China’s President Xi Jinping. He drew inspiration from the concept of the Silk Road established during the Han Dynasty about 2000 years ago – an ancient network of trade routes that for centuries connected China to the Mediterranean via Eurasia. 

Mr. Xi called for the building of a Silk Road Economic Belt and a 21st-century Maritime Silk Road, which would promote economic co-operation and connectivity, primarily through infrastructure investments, among the countries along their proposed routes. 

The initiative – initially known as One Belt, One Road – aims to eradicate poverty, create jobs, address the consequences of international financial crises, promote sustainable development, and advance market-based industrial transformation and economic diversification. 

This is a long-term project which, for years to come, will give China a key role in guiding and supporting cultural, economic, political, and trade developments around the world. 

  • The initiative now encompasses nearly 70 countries with a population of over 4.8 billion people, more than half the planet’s population.  
  • It covers economies worth a total some US$ 21 trillion, accounting for 62 per cent of the world’s GDP and about 65 percent and 30 percent of global land- and maritime-based economic production respectively. 
  • The Fitch ratings agency reported in 2017 that US$ 900 billion in projects were already planned or underway. 
  • The Belt and Road Initiative is vast encompassing countries that account for 29% of global GDP 

The Belt & Road Initiative comprises of Belts (Six Land Road) & one Road (Maritime).

The Belt component of the BRI comprises of six land roads, or economic corridors, linking China to Europe and reviving the ancient Silk Route.

1. The New Eurasia Land Bridge Economic Corridor

The New Eurasia Land Bridge Economic Corridor is one of the most ambitious OBOR projects; it consists in developing rail transportation between China and Europe through Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus. Freight trains link Chongqing to Duisburg, Chengdu to Lodz, Yiwu to Madrid, Wuhan to Hamburg, and Wuhan to Lyon. The objective of this corridor is to increase the frequency of rail transportation between China and Europe. To accelerate trade along this route and increase its competitiveness vis-à-vis maritime transportation, this program is complemented by a simplification of customs procedures according to the principle of “declaration, inspection, clearance”. Other infrastructure upgrades will be added to this corridor.

2. The China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor

This is one of the main axes of the new Silk Road; it connects the Chinese province of Xinjiang to the Mediterranean Sea, through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey. It follows the ancient Silk Route. This initiative is completed by bilateral cooperation agreements between China and Central Asia states. This corridor aims to better connect all the regional economies to China but also to Europe and thus offers a new intercontinental communication network that will open up Central Asian states. This corridor requires the construction of numerous transportation and energy infrastructures from the Middle East to China. It is supplemented by various measures aiming at increasing trade among all states involved in the OBOR.

3. The China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor

The new Steppe road aims to develop trade between China and Mongolia by modernizing transport, telecommunication and energy networks to make Mongolia a hub between China and Russia.

4. The China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor

This program aims to strengthen cooperation among states of the Greater Mekong subregion, in particular by developing transport (motorways, railways and air connections). This initiative will support trade between China and ASEAN members that are already bound by a free trade agreement since 2010. In China, the provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi are the most involved in this cooperation.

5. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

This cooperation program connects Kashgar in the Chinese province of Xinjiang to the port of Gwadar in Pakistan; it includes the construction of railways, highways, optical fiber networks, the creation of an international airport in Gwadar as well as the establishment of special economic zones.

6. The Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar Economic Corridor

The purpose of this corridor is to better connect China with the various economic centers of the Gulf of Bengal, and to increase interregional trade by reducing non-tariff barriers. It also aims at strengthening transport infrastructures and decreasing poverty in this region.

This corridor would link Kunming to Kolkata (Calcutta) via Mandalay and Dhaka.

One Road

The new maritime Silk Road (One Road) is the second element of the OBOR initiative. The “One Road” aims to intensify maritime trade between Chinese ports and Europe.

This project involves cooperation agreements and investments in Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Arabic peninsula, the Mediterranean Sea and the East African coastline.

The new maritime Silk Road aims at modernizing infrastructures and simplifying trade formalities to intensify and accelerate exchanges along this route.

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